Lockdown sensation Su Lee: ‘I believe in sharing vulnerability – it relieves the pain’

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I f we could boil Gen Z internet, with all its anxieties and goofiness and creativity and openness, down into a person, the result would be Su Lee. The South Korean musician’s DIY pop songs shrug off frivolities such as love and sex in favour of bopping through the exhaustion and annoyance of having your brain chemistry work against you. Chuck in some videos featuring handmade wall art in “groovy chick” colourways and a dollop of ironic goofiness and Lee’s “spokesperson of Gen Z” status is pretty much assured. A case in point: when she logged on to Zoom for our interview, she asked: “Will we put this out as a video?” which made me feel ancient (and horrified).

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Although Lee has always dabbled in music, she initially planned to go into graphic design, which she studied in the UK for three years. But the rules and restrictions of design bored her, so she returned to South Korea and gave herself a year to give the whole music thing a go. In May 2020, when the world was feeling boxed-in and stir crazy, her bouncy, conversational song I’ll Just Dance went viral. The video subhead was “What my mental breakdown sounds like”, under which one commenter wrote: “i come here everytime i’m having a life crisis. works everytime [sic].”

Encouraged by the response to her music, Lee kept creating from her family home in a suburb of Seoul: writing, recording, filming, set-dressing, costuming, livestreaming and editing – all in a room that’s probably smaller than Dua Lipa’s hand luggage. The days spent crying into the walls and refusing to leave said room are what form the backbone of her songs, although you wouldn’t know it from the silly voices and jokes she sprinkles throughout.

“I’m generally OK with being super-vulnerable and just talking about stuff,” she says. “Humour goes a long way when you’re dealing with something that’s really difficult, although it’s very hard to stay humorous when you’re going through crippling depression.”

Another of Lee’s songs, Socially Alive, is about walking into a room full of people and forgetting how to be a person. When I say I recognised that feeling, she grins. “I put it out there hoping that people would feel less alone in feeling similar,” she explains. “But I get the same feeling in return from my listeners, you know? I believe in sharing vulnerability, that it relieves the pain a little bit. There’s power in that.”

This is, of course, an age when many stars are now openly discussing their own mental health, and crafting heartbreaking songs in the process. Lee is no less open, but doesn’t really let that darkness enter her music; instead she looks you dead in the eye and says: “Isn’t this absurd?” I’ll take a silly dance over a cry any time.

The Box Room Dreams EP is out 26 August

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